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Close shaves are leaving team a cut above

FOXBOROUGH -- Bill Belichick said Sunday that the Patriots' 9-3 win over the Browns, one not decided until the final minute, unfolded "about the way we expected." It ended the way Patriots fans have come to expect close games involving New England to end. With a Patriots win.

That's why the 3-point loss at Washington Sept. 28 was so devastating.

Under Belichick, New England almost always emerges victorious in tight games. Since 2001, the Patriots have won 10 of 12 games decided by 6 points or fewer and are 6-0 in overtime games.After the Redskins snapped an eight-game winning streak in such games, New England has won its last two, each by 6 points: Sunday's win and a 19-13 overtime triumph at Miami two weeks ago.

"I think in the end it comes down to execution under pressure," Belichick said yesterday, having dropped Cleveland to 11-16 in games decided in the final minute under Butch Davis.

"Going out there on Wednesdays or pregame warmups, that's one thing. It's another thing when two or three or four plays decide the game, whether it is making a kick, catching a pass, making a stop, executing a play to make the key play on offense, defense, or special teams."

The Patriots have come from behind in seven of those close victories.

"Think back to the Miami game last year [27-24 in overtime in the season finale], on the kickoff and on the onside kick look, kick it deep and it ends up on the 5-yard line. Some of it is situational football, and in the end it just comes down to good execution by the players. They're the ones that have to go out there and make those plays. It comes down to a three-, four-, five-play game at some point. It's whoever wins those few plays, that's who's going to win the game.

"I think our team has confidence, which is good, and they don't back down from the challenge of the situation. It really comes down to good execution."

Tackling depth Though the Patriots have only three healthy tackles on the active roster -- starters Matt Light and Tom Ashworth and backup Brandon Gorin -- Belichick said that, as of yesterday, he had no plans to add another tackle. "We have guys on the practice squad," he said, referring to linemen Tim Provost and Jamil Soriano. "So we do have people in our system. So our depth is really from within there even though they're not on the active roster. We couldn't do that during a game. We would have to just shuffle the deck and move them around." Belichick said in an emergency, one of the guards would move to tackle . . . Ted Johnson, out recovering from a broken left foot since the opener, ran before Sunday's game. "It's ahead of where he was a couple of weeks ago," Belichick said. "He's definitely improving and he is heading in the right direction." Ted Washington (fractured left leg) is running and may return to practice next week. . . . Belichick said running back Mike Cloud being listed among the game-day inactives Sunday was strictly a "coach's decision" and not due to injury . . . Dan Klecko's replica No. 90 jersey is among the top sellers in the Gillette Stadium Pro Shop, behind established stars Tom Brady, Adam Vinatieri, Tedy Bruschi, and Ty Law.

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